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Identity Theft - Personal Security Center

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What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone illegally obtains your personal information - such as your Social Security number, bank account number or other identification - and uses it to open new accounts or initiate transactions in your name. Examples of fraudulent activities conducted by criminals include: opening new credit cards, opening new bank accounts, forging or counterfeiting checks, and applying for new loans and even mortgages in your name. Such activity can cause financial loss and damage to your credit, which can lead to a lengthy resolution process.

Criminals can obtain personal information via online and offline methods. Stealing wallets and purses, intercepting or rerouting your email, and rummaging through your garbage are some of the common tactics that thieves may use to obtain personal information.

Recognize Identity Theft and Fraud

Identity thieves can strike even if you've been very careful with your personal information. The following may be signs of identity theft:

  • If you find new accounts on your credit report that are not yours
  • If you did not receive an expected bill or statement by mail
  • If you receive credit cards or billing statements on accounts you didn't apply for
  • If you are denied credit or are offered less than favorable credit terms for no reason
  • If you get calls from creditors or debt collectors regarding merchandise or services that you did not buy

Fraud is an act that occurs when someone uses your account to make unauthorized transactions, usually when the account number or card has been stolen. The following may be signs of fraud:

  • If you did not receive an expected bill or statement by mail
  • If unexpected charges occurred on your account
  • If there are charges on your account from unrecognized vendors
  • If posted checks appear on your account significantly out of sequence

Types of Identity Theft

Mailbox Theft

Only use secured mailboxes to deposit your mail, such as those provided by the post office. If your home mailbox is unsecured, consider changing it to a locked box with a mail slot to ensure your incoming mail is secure. Collect your mail promptly, and if you don't receive an expected piece of mail, such as a billing statement, make a call to the company to ask when they sent it out and make sure no unauthorized change of address has been made. For your eligible accounts, consider switching to online billing statements, such as Bank of the West's Online Banking (see ID Theft Prevention - The Computer to learn about securing your online activity and Online Banking Security Measures for information on how we work to protect your online activity).

If you have reason to believe your information was stolen, report the incident immediately.


Before you begin to use your debit card, take a look around you. Do you have enough personal space, or is someone crowding you, such as in a busy supermarket line? Is there someone hovering around your area for no apparent reason?

If you feel uncomfortable completing the transaction, don't. Additionally, be sure to secure your wallet in a safe space, such as an inner zipped pocket, especially when securing your card back into place in public.

Insider Threat

Make it a point to know how any organization requesting your personal information secures it.

Safekeeping of customer information is a high priority at Bank of the West. We will continue to maintain the high standards necessary to help ensure that your information is kept private and secure.


View Internet Scams for more information on avoiding email phishing attempts. Understand that a criminal may use the name of a trusted source to gain your information, so you cannot rely on name alone to make a judgment. Know the policies of the various institutions you interact with so that if you are faced with this type of scheme, you are prepared to protect yourself.

Take a look at what kind of information on you is available on the internet. View your internet networking sites and profiles to ensure you are not inadvertently giving out information that can be used to steal your identity.


Make sure that your computer has a firewall installed. Firewalls are designed to block unsolicited attempts to access your system. If you do have firewall, make sure that it is turned on. If you do not have firewall installed, you can purchase one.

Make sure that you have antivirus software installed and update it regularly.  Run antivirus software on a regular basis to identify and remove viruses from your computer.

Do not open any attachments or go to any links from a source that you are not familiar with. Delete any unsolicited emails with attachments and links immediately. You can report any suspicious communications to us at


Skimmers are devices used to read the magnetic strip from your credit or debit card. They can be used on any ATM type of device, such as at the local gas station or a restaurant. The devices are often well-concealed.

Criminals who use skimmers typically use the information they gather from you within 24 hours. It is always important that you regularly check your account balances and reconcile them with any purchases you have made. Be wary of any ATM device that appears to have been altered or appears suspicious. Always cancel a transaction if you feel uncomfortable in any way.

Theft by Phone

Organizations and financial institutions typically do not have a reason to unexpectedly call to ask for you to verify your personal information.

If you feel that it may be a legitimate call from a company known to you, tell them that you will call back through the listed number for the organization and ask for their name so that you can get to them. If it is a legitimate call, the person calling you should have no problem with accommodating you. Use a phone or internet listing for the company to call back. If it is an organization you do not know of, satisfy yourself of the legitimacy of the organization before giving any information about yourself. When in doubt, do not provide any information.

Identity Theft Security Tips

Follow these tips to help protect yourself from identity theft:

  • Carefully review Websites, online advertisements, and emails before taking any action or submitting any personal information online.
  • Memorize your Password and PINs. Do not write them down, save them on your computer or reveal them to anyone.
  • Create a complex Password that:
    • Is 8 - 12 characters in length. The longer the Password, the better.
    • Includes letters and numbers.
    • Has at least four different characters (no repeats).
    • Has at least one special character.
    • Is a sequence of random letters and numbers.
    • Is not obvious or easily obtainable information.
  • Change your Bank of the West Online Banking password every 30 to 60 days. You can easily change your password by visiting the Change Username/Password page under Preferences in the Services tab of Online Banking.
  • Never email your account number, Social Security number or other sensitive information to anyone.
  • Never leave your computer unattended while logged in. Complete your banking tasks and end your web sessions by always logging out.
  • When visiting social networks, remember that sharing information like your birth date, phone number, email address, location and photos can put your identity at risk.
  • Carry only necessary information with you. Leave your Social Security card and unused credit cards at home in a safe and secure location.
  • Make photocopies (front and back) of vital information you carry regularly and store them in a secure place, such as a safety deposit box. Then, if your purse or wallet is lost or stolen, you have the relevant contact information readily available.
  • Do not provide your Social Security number unless absolutely necessary.
  • Replace paper invoices, statements and checks with electronic versions, if offered by your employer, bank, utility provider or merchant.
  • Know your billing and statement cycles. Contact the company's customer service department if you stop receiving your regular bill or statements.
  • Shred documents containing personal or financial information before discarding. Many fraud and identity theft incidents happen as a result of mail and garbage theft.
  • If you are uncomfortable with a phone call that was not initiated by you, hang up or ask for the purpose of the call. Then contact the company using legitimate sources such as contact phone numbers found on the company's Website, your bank statements, and those listed on your ATM, debit or credit cards.
  • Maintain a close watch on your bank accounts, credit card accounts, loan accounts and review your credit report at least twice annually. Check for unauthorized charges and new accounts in your name. Report any loss or theft immediately.
  • Make sure we have your current contact information so we can reach you if fraudulent activity is suspected on your account(s).
  • For consumers, annually, obtain a free credit report from each of the credit reporting companies and review it carefully. (See the Federal Trade Commission's Website for more information.) Contact the applicable credit reporting companies immediately if you find any unknown or suspicious activity on your credit reports.
  • Consider subscribing to a credit monitoring service and monitor your credit reports regularly.
  • Learn to detect fake emails and websites requesting your personal information.
  • Use computer virus protection software.

Additional Resources

Report Fraud, Identity Theft or Suspicious Activity

If you believe you are the victim of fraud or identity theft, call Bank of the West immediately at 1-800-488-2265.
TTY 800-659-5495

To report a lost or stolen credit card, call us at 1-800-996-2638.

If you've received a suspicious email, let us know by emailing us at:

Need more information on what to do in case of fraud?

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